Ex-Old Trafford skipper continues to build on his managerial CV.Sunderland manager Steve Bruce's return to Manchester United on Sunday presents another chance to audition for the lead role at the Theatre of Dreams.
The 49-year-old steps foot on the ground where he enjoyed the glory days of his playing career with his side in a lofty sixth place in the Premier League table. With Sir Alex Ferguson in the opposite dugout fresh from celebrating the achievement of becoming the longest serving United boss, Bruce could be forgiven for dreaming of following in his mentor's footsteps.
Despite recent assertions from the Scot that all plans of retirement have been shelved, the club's hierarchy must have succession plans in place. Previous remarks have placed Jose Mourinho in the box seat due to the requirement of a tried and tested candidate, but if the powers that be hanker for continuity, Bruce could yet be the chosen one.
That Bruce was on hand to end the 26-year wait for glory when he lifted the Premier League title alongside Bryan Robson in 1993 speaks volumes. That he has followed this with an impressive managerial career - bar an error strewn and expensive period at Huddersfield Town a decade ago - adds to the allure.
Through top flight spells with Birmingham City, Wigan Athletic and Sunderland, Bruce has developed a reputation as a man to rely upon. Cast aside ruthlessly in the upheaval surrounding Carson Yeung's eventual takeover with the second city team, the ex-defender has since exhibited a keen eye for undiscovered talent and ability to ring results from his squad.
The fruits of this labour have been on show at Old Trafford with Antonio Valencia. Inherited by Bruce when he took over from Paul Jewell, the Ecuadorian developed at such a rate under his guidance that a £17 million switch to United in summer 2009 had looked excellent value for money before an unfortunate leg break against Rangers in September.
Black Cats midfielder and recent England call-up Jordan Henderson could be the next to follow the Bruce conveyor belt to United if current rumours are to be believed.
Captain fantastic | Bruce lifted Manchester United's first Premier League trophy in '93Bruce certainly has grasped the chance to spend Sunderland owner Ellis Short's millions. Vitally, his splurges on strikers Darren Bent and Asamoah Gyan have come up trumps.
Similar investments in Charles N'Zogbia and Hugo Rodallega at Wigan are sure to bear fuit if the pair are offloaded to rivals in the January transfer window.
Peace of mind, no doubt, for the cash conscious Glazers.
Black Cats' boom
Top three results for
Sunderland in 2010/11
3. Sunderland 1-0 Manchester City August 29 2010
A late rugby tackle from City defender Micah Richards presented Darren Bent with a 94th minute penalty. The England striker duly obliged to send the big spenders packing.
2. Tottenham 1-1 Sunderland November 9 2010
Sunderland travelled down to the capital with most pundits expecting a win for Harry Redknapp's charges. Rafael van der Vaart opened the scoring only for Gyan to provide a deserved equaliser three minutes later.
1. Chelsea 0-3 Sunderland
14 November 2010
Lambs to the slaughter turned to glorious victors as Bruce's men turned on the style. The champions had no answer as Nedum Onuoha cut through the defence, Gyan finished a sweet move with aplomb and Welbeck netted after an error from Ashley Cole.
Although his C.V. had been tarnished by relegation with Birmingham in 2005/06, the promotion won in trying circumstances the subsequent campaign spoke volumes.
Bruce's pragmatic approach to the game has also gained merit. From often digging out results with Birmingham and during the first year of his Sunderland reign, a more expansive approach was present at Wigan Athletic and has returned at times for the Black Cats this term.
The swashbuckling 3-0 win against Chelsea sent shockwaves through the division. Cut apart by the dynamism of Henderson, United loanee Danny Welbeck and Gyan, the champions had no answer.
For a man whose bent nose speaks of endless stories of defensive scraps, his emphasis on keeping the door bolted at the same time merits praise. Centre-back pairing Michael Turner and Titus Bramble had been among the best in the league before injury ruined their Christmas.
For Bruce to stand a chance of bypassing elite applicants Pep Guardiola and Mourinho, he must improve upon results against United. Although he has never tasted victory against his alma mater, he has drawn two out of his last three meetings.
Indeed, this fixture last term really should have seen a first victory. After Sunderland dominated proceedings, a late and cruel Anton Ferdinand deflection saw the spoils shared in a 2-2 draw.
A shock first loss of the season would be bad news for United but the best possible fillip for Bruce's cause.
A series of great men have been produced by Ferguson during his all-conquering tenure. There would be a poetry in one of his acolytes taking the mantle from him.
Crucially, Mourinho's brash approach could rattle too many cages in the Old Trafford boardroom. As a player with nine year's service, Bruce would provide the seamless transition necessary when Ferguson finally calls it a day.
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